By Lucky Oji
The Ijaw Elders Forum, Lagos, views with serious concern reports of attack and brutalisation of protesting Ijaw women and youths in Yenagoa by alleged thugs.
The victims were reportedly attacked on Tuesday as they assembled to engage in a peaceful march against the decision of the Bayelsa State government to offer land to Fulani herdsmen for cattle grazing in the state capital. The elders in a press release signed by the Chairman, Chief Bukazi Etete and General Secretary, Pastor Efiye Bribena, said it is worrisome and condemnable that the women and youths were brutalised in the presence of policemen, who were expected to provide security for the peaceful protesters.
“The attack and assault on unarmed and defenceless citizens is unacceptable to every lover of freedom. Nigeria is a democracy with constitutionally guaranteed freedom to assemble and express dissent in a peaceful manner.
“Any attempt to stifle constitutionally guaranteed rights in a democracy by individuals or institutions of the state is an invitation to anarchy. As elders, we do not want a state of anarchy foisted on our beloved state by enemies of democracy and the Ijaw nation. We crave for peace in Bayelsa, across the Niger Delta and in our country at all times,” the group stated.
The elders noted that it is the responsibility of the state leadership and the government to properly engage and consult with the citizens on policies that would affect their well-being.
They advised the Bayelsa government to constructively engage with people of the state to allay their fears over its decision on the land allegedly allocated for cattle grazing.
“The grazing land issue is very sensitive and the fears being expressed might not be misplaced given the incidence of deadly clashes between herdsmen and farmers in various parts of the country. It is therefore the responsibility of government to carry the people along when taking decisions that affect them.
“We agree that there are pros and cons in the decision by the government. But it still owes the citizens the duty to explain to them. The absence of such engagement could lead to protest as we have seen on this issue,” it said.